Driving under the Influence of Marijuana and the state of the law

Here in Pennsylvania, medical marijuana is about to become legal, so clearly our legislature will have to address that with the DUI laws which currently prohibits any amount of marijuana to be in your blood when you drive, even if you smoked it weeks earlier. So far, they’ve done nothing. It may take a few appeals from defense attorneys like me before that happens.

Years ago, that law was challenged but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that since marijuana was illegal, and since driving is a privilege and not a right, that you could be charged even if the amount in your system was minimal.marijuana-laws

I’ve been waiting for a client to come in and tell me she smoked in Colorado or somewhere else where it’s legal and then got pulled over in Pennsylvania days later and charged with a DUI for marijuana. I could then argue that the first part of the argument for our DUI laws was invalid because the marijuana was legal at the time smoked.

Realistically, though, if you’re not under the influence of it days later, you probably wouldn’t get pulled over anyway since you’re not showing any signs of being under the influence. A cop can’t demand you take a blood test without some sort of reasonable suspicion that you’re under the influence, even if you look like a stoner.

Where it still comes into play, though, is in situations like this: Let’s say you have had a beer and the cop smells alcohol on your breath and then makes you take a blood test. The blood test shows that your Blood Alcohol Count is .07% which is legal and under the DUI limits but the test also shows a presence of marijuana that you smoked days earlier. Now he can charge you, and in Pennsylvania the presence of drugs carries a harsher penalty than just alcohol. Technically and scientifically, you were “under the influence” of neither but legally, you were for marijuana. And that’s where the problem lies.

Remember that even when marijuana becomes legal, it will still be illegal to drive under its influence. Hell, it’s illegal to drive under the influence of cough syrup if it affects your driving.

Even in Colorado, you can’t drive while under the influence. However, their law (as I understand it) says what the limits have to be in your system, just like the law does now with alcohol. A small amount isn’t enough.

I bring this all up because of a recent decision in Arizona that held that simply having marijuana in your system is insufficient for a DUI conviction absent a showing of some sort of driving impairment. In other words, even if the amount shows that you just smoked it, if there is no evidence that your driving was impaired, you can’t be charged.  (This is unlike the “per se” alcohol laws that say if you have more than .08% in your system you can be charged even if your driving was perfect.)

Ironically, I have mixed feelings on this, as I have previously argued in favor of lowering the Blood Alcohol levels from .08% to .05% as it is in most of the rest of the world (as long as the penalty is non-criminal and minor). I personally believe that there should be a level for marijuana as well, even though I don’t know what that level should be.

Marijuana is not good for you

Yes, of course it should be legal. Just stop pretending that smoking a marijuana cigarette is good for your health.

The pro-marijuana lobby has been pretty successful lately, and I am happy for that.  It makes no sense that marijuana is still illegal in most places while alcohol is legal. marijuana-mapAnd in Colorado (for instance), legalization has been quite successful financially, both in the income it produces through taxes as well as the money saved from having less crowded jails and courthouses.

But geez, stop claiming that smoking it is good for you.

My wife (the award-winning artist) is a cancer survivor. She lost much of the use of her right arm due to a very rare desmoid tumor. She can only work for a few hours a day before the pain is too much for her. She is on constant medication and often has to use a machine to massage her arm because of her lymphoma.

Do I believe marijuana would make her feel better to help the pain? Sure, of course. Just like wine does for her now.

But a glass of wine a day really isn’t that bad for you. It may even be good. Alcohol is only bad when it is abused. People have literally died from alcohol (whereas no one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana).

But that doesn’t mean a marijuana cigarette is healthier for you than a glass of beer.

Here’s what the American Cancer society has to say:

Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals. There are 33 cancer-causing chemicals contained in marijuana. Marijuana smoke also deposits tar into the lungs. In fact, when equal amounts of marijuana and tobacco are smoked, marijuana deposits four times as much tar into the lungs. This is because marijuana joints are un-filtered and often more deeply inhaled than cigarettes.

Fortunately, no one smokes marijuana in the same amount that they smoke tobacco. If they did, you’d be seeing a lot of marijuana-related cancer deaths just like you do from tobacco.

So yes, let’s make marijuana legal, and as soon as possible. But let’s not pretend that it’s because it’s good for you.

Please note:  I am just talking about your standard marijuana cigarettes that you smoke. Smoking is bad. The harm is not bad if eaten in a brownie, for instance, and medical uses wherein the materials from marijuana are taken to make drugs for treating glaucoma and such is an entirely different subject.

Also, since I wrote this, my wife (who I mentioned above) has started using the medical marijuana and it has made a huge difference in her pain.  It’s wonderful.  But (here’s the point): She doesn’t smoke it.  Smoking is bad, mkay?

New Hempshire

The New Hampshire House has voted to legalize marijuana.

This is important.  Marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington were voter-driven referenda. medical-marijuana-dea  Most politicians are afraid to take a stand on this for fear of being labelled as “soft on drugs” or something else equally stupid, but given the popularity of sudden vacations to Colorado, they’re rethinking their old ways.

And rightly so.  Legalized marijuana can make a state a lot of money.  They can tax it heavily and require sellers to pay for expensive licensing. But they also save money — less people in jail over marijuana possession, less police wasting time on marijuana cases, fewer probation officers needed, fewer court hours spent on hearings and trials.

New Hampshire is a conservative state in many ways, filled with people escaping from liberal Massachusetts and socialistic Vermont.  New Hampshire is quite libertarian —  they’re individuals who don’t like government telling them that they can’t smoke a joint. “Life free or die” is their credo (even though it doesn’t make any sense).

Will they be the next state to legalize?  Not likely.  The Governor has vowed to veto the bill.  (And she’s a Democrat, too; you’d think otherwise.)  So why would she be against this with all the benefits it will bring?

Who knows?  Maybe she’s high.

The best voter suppression

Republicans are doing everything they can to suppress the vote, because every study shows that if everyone voted, Republicans would pretty much lose. Vote (Not every district, of course, but they would certainly lose their House majority, as well as many statehouses.)  

But there is one idea that they haven’t grasped yet which would accomplish the same goal.

What they need are for people to become apathetic about politics — especially young people, who are overwhelmingly less religious, more liberal, and less prejudiced than their elders.  What the Republicans need is a way to keep these people in a state where all they want to do is watch TV and eat doritos.

You see where I’m going with this, right?  Come on, Republicans!  Legalize marijuana and then those kids won’t even be motivated to get out and vote!  Bam!  Instant suppression without breaking any laws!

(OK, Republicans, stop reading now.  The rest is for my Democratic friends.

Shh!  Don’t let on.  Most republicans are so clueless about both marijuana and what young people want and think that they just might fall for this!)

Editorial cartoon: Pot holders

Look what marijuana did to Colorado

They warned us. If you legalize marijuana, it’s going to destroy civilization. Criminals will run rampant, and, as we all know, marijuana leads to harder drugs, just like how milk leads to alcohol.

And now we actually have some place where we can see the results.

In Colorado, since the legalization, many changes have happened.

The state has saved millions of dollars by not arresting, prosecuting, and jailing marijuana users.

The state has earned millions of dollars in registration costs, fees, and taxes on marijuana.

They’ve also earned millions in tourism. Everybody loves a “bud and breakfast.”

They warned us, they most certainly did.

They were absolutely wrong, but they did warn us.